After 18 years of struggle, you finally got your recognition from Red Chillies, Dharma Productions. Earlier when I spoke to you for Betaal, you told me that apart from Anurag Kashyap no one would give you work.
For an actor, it is a compliment when people acknowledge our work and it reaches to a wide audience, when directors, producers, put their trust on the actor and give him/her new roles, this is a great time for me as an actor and Im really happy about it.
When you came to this industry you had no connections. How do you think that you were able to develop this trust?
Yes, well it's not like that. It's not like producers don't trust outsiders. What I feel when you will deliver better things as an actor and work in a non-stop process, then somewhere down the lane people recognize your work. It took me 18 years to get a lead role in Mukkebaaz, (before that Gangs of Wasseypur happened) but see until people start noticing you prominently it is difficult for an actor. We have to continue our non-stop struggle. My life, post-Mukkebaaz and pre-Mukkebaaz is extremely different. Before Mukkebaaz there weren't many options, now people have started noticing me. Before that I worked as an extra, duplicate of heroes, I worked as Sunil Shetty's duplicate. But I always had that determination that when I get my first break, my first prominence, I am not going to step back. I will continue. This journey was long, finally when Gangs of Wasseypur happened people recognised me, but things weren't working as I had imagined. Then I wrote Mukkebaaz along with my sister. There were a few people who helped me out. I met a lot of people, few of them warmly welcomed me but they were sceptical about me pulling off a lead role as a boxer.
I didn't have the PR machinery to help me in my career, but I kept struggling and I didn't lose faith in myself. I believed in the divine force and kept working, hoping that one day I will get my recognition. You see, to be in this field, you need a reference. If I would have worked as a boxer, fighter, before Mukkebaaz maybe people would have worked in my favour, but I always trusted myself as an actor.
Mumbai is a busy city, people have their own lives, no one has the time to think about you, but you can definitely think about yourself. I realised this while pitching Mukkebaaz. In a career, until you hunt for diversity, people will keep sending the same script and you will feel like you haven't experimented enough. That's why after Mukkebaaz I have tried to work in various projects including Gold, Saandh Ki Aankh. As I said, there should be some reference, so that people can build trust in you. I willingly chose to part ways with my character from Mukkebaaz, else I would have been a typecast. I tried variations where my characters were different from each other. In Gunjan Saxena, my character is not a bad guy as such. He is ready for the highest sacrifice. He is well educated, he is just under the impression that Gunjan is not fit for this world. I was able to relate to the character because I fought for my two sisters. Both my sisters are sportspersons.
One of my sisters won the Gold in Asian Games too after giving birth to one child. She won in the 100 m hurdle. My other sister, who wrote Mukkebaaz with me, she was an assistant professor in Physical Education. She taught in Benaras Hindu University. She resigned because she is more of a creative person. Life of an assistant professor is very comfortable compared to us you see. Even my father is a Mathematician, he is a professor, and I have seen that they live in the lap of luxury. They dont have a rush, target and have financial security.
But I am a cinema person. In this life, I want to do what I wish to do and live it completely.
Okay, we are getting diverted from the interview... (laughs) let's get back on topic, so you were telling me how you got an offer from Dharma Productions.
I was shooting for a film out of Mumbai when suddenly I got a call from Dharma. The casting director there said that they want such a character. When I came back to Mumbai, I read the script with Sharan. I felt a positive vibe and I felt he has the right intention. He is a wonderful guy and I never felt that he is a newbie. The way he managed everything, I never felt that he was working as a director for the first time. I was very happy that his visions worked positively. During my visit with director Sharan I enjoyed a lot. It was a smooth journey.
You said you want to experience variety. But recently on Netflix we have seen you in uniform, Betaal, Bard of Bloods and now Gunjan Saxena.
Yes I know. I'm getting a bit of a headache. But you see, all my characters are different. If you are talking about only Netflix, well all of them have a different character traits. My character in Betaal, Vikram Sirohi was suffering from the post-traumatic stress disorder. People in Western world talk about this condition medically, but in India, well now they are working on it. When people return from war, they do feel like returning from a nightmare. They suffer in ways you can't even imagine. In Betaal, my character never orders, neither does he dominate because he is internally too weak to be a leader. Even guns dont help him enough to gain authority. Power comes from within, physical strength is merely an added advantage. Being a doctor I know this.
You are a doctor?
Yes. I studied medicine for nine years. I did an MD. This education helped me in my career as an actor.
Like I was saying, you see although uniform is a common aspect in these three Netflix releases, the characters are completely different from each other. My character in Gunjan Saxena is very confident about everything. He commands with confidence. He is also arrogant, but simultaneously he is a good guy. He doesn't see anything wrong in cancelling Gunjan Saxena's sortie because he doesn't want to betray the country.
This performance came in me from real-life experience. In our society, when we are children, we always observe them. When guests arrive we tell the girl child to serve them, make tea for them. When this child goes to work in any field, then they experience the same kind of sexism. We tell the girls not to walk out of the residence at night. Late has a different definition in different cities. In Mumbai there is nothing called late. In Delhi it is different. I tried to capture this rhythm in our daily life and show it in the film. The conditioning we have for male and female exists. Im not saying everywhere, times have changed but definitely it exists on a large scale. No doubt that the world has changed, we have women icons everywhere. We have Mary Kom, lady journalists, women's cricket and women representation everywhere. Ladies are ruling everywhere, and they deserve equal opportunities. I remember even during our school exams, board exams, the girls would top the exam, but they also need the exposure to do better. After all, change begins at home.
Gunjan Saxena may be facing a lot of criticism but the film also changed the perception of India's Daughter.
Our country, Indians collectively are emotional people. Cinema does have a huge influence. This is not just entertainment, this may create an impact. This film will have a deep influence in ways we cant imagine. You know maybe after watching Gunjan Saxena, someone out there will get inspired, because ultimately Gunjan won the race. Granted that she faced a lot of emotional hurdles but at the end of the day Gunjan fought against all odds and won the game. That is important, that is inspiring.
But you know Gunjan Saxena has said that she never faced sexism like it was shown in the film.
See, I cannot talk about that angle, the director, producer, Netflix folks can explain that. I can only talk about my character. I wasn't at the air force back then so can't say, I am an actor and I worked according to the script. Makers do take cinematic liberty, and about this I cannot say anything. All I have to say is that women do face such sexism in their daily lives. When a man watches this, maybe he will understand that somewhere the problem lies within him. Maybe the film will work differently if we act like a mirror to the society. As an actor, I can deliver that and if there is a change in our society then I will consider myself to be a successful actor. Even when I was struggling, I could have easily packed and left. But I didn't. I chose to work hard for 16-17 years.
You were majorly helped by Anurag Kashyap, right?
Yes. He would give me work, he was a well-wisher. You see, when you have a good boss who understands your talent, that person helps you to be nourished. That helping hand goes a long way. If I talk about Anurag Kashyap, then I must say he has helped so many people, not just me. Without Anurag Kashyap, I wouldn't have had Mukkebaaz, without Mukkebaaz, I wouldn't get an offer from Gunjan Saxena, without Gunjan Saxena, we wouldn't have been talking right now.